Transgender student admitted to women’s university decides not to enroll

Posted on : 2020-02-11 18:18 KST Modified on : 2020-02-11 18:20 KST
Student cites “fear” as main reason
Sookmyung Women’s University’s main gate. (Hankyoreh archives)
Sookmyung Women’s University’s main gate. (Hankyoreh archives)

Prejudice finally broke the will of a transgender female who had intended to study at an all-woman’s university,

After undergoing gender reassignment surgery and gaining permission to change her legal gender from a South Korean court, a 22-year-old identified as “K” was accepted into the law department at Sookmyung Women’s University for the 2020 academic year. But on Feb. 7, K said she’d decided not to attend after all.

“I kept mulling it over all night long, and I finally decided not to enroll. I have a number of reasons, but in the end, the biggest one is fear,” K told the Hankyoreh in a telephone interview on Friday.

“Given the fear that my personal information would be leaked and that I’d be tracked down, I wasn’t sure whether I could handle campus life.”

Friday was the deadline for new students at Sookmyung Women’s University to pay their tuition.

After the press reported K’s acceptance into the university, numerous messages were posted about her on the university’s online message board.

“This is a space for women, so stay out!” one student wrote. “There’s no grounds for a transgender woman to claim she’s a woman,” said another. Another post said, “If the transgender woman had just kept quiet in the first place, people wouldn’t have made a fuss about her.”

There have also been a string of open letters expressing hate and prejudice against transgender people.

At 3 pm on Friday, K posted a message on her online journal titled, “I’ve given up the idea of enrolling at Sookmyung.” She explained that she’d recently visited a bookstore to look at study guides for the university entrance examination, even though she’d already been accepted at Sookmyung, and said she was “frightened to hear people say they aren’t willing to allow even my modest hopes.”

“Nobody is always a social majority; nobody is always a social minority. Everybody’s identity is a composite of minority elements and majority elements. Fear of unknown ways of life should give way to the curiosity to learn more, rather than leading to unmerciful hatred. Such hatred conceals true problems and discards multifaceted interpretations in favor of one-dimensional debates.”

In the post, K also expressed her gratitude to those who had supported her. “I want to thank a number of individuals and organizations who sent their support and who sympathized with my desire to create a society that can tolerate a variety of values.”

Park Han-hui, an attorney whom K said she regarded as a role model, spoke with the Hankyoreh on the phone following the news about K’s decision not to attend Sookmyung. “We saw not only a simple rejection of transgender but also feelings of hatred on campus, and I can’t understand why Sookmyung Women’s University didn’t do anything about it. If the university had actively welcomed and accepted this student, I think that people on campus would have felt more ashamed [of their actions],” Park said.

“Changing society from a non-mainstream point of view is the basic foundation and the central value of feminism. It’s a major misconception for statements opposing [K’s] admission to claim the name of ‘feminism.’ People have the right to choose their own gender identity, and no one can take that away from them,” said Shin Gyeong-a, a sociology professor at Hallym University.

While K has decided not to attend Sookmyung Women’s University, she hasn’t given up on her dream of studying law. “I’ll be working on university applications with the goal of getting into law school. I hope our society can become one that can tolerate diverse values,” she said in an interview with the Hankyoreh.

By Kwon Ji-dam and Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

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